Thursday 3 September 2015

Guest Post: Linda Davies on Female Warriors in Literature

I've just started Longbow Girl, the debut children's book by Linda Davies, author of 5 adult thrillers including NYT-bestseller Nest Of Vipers, and am really enjoying it so far! We're delighted to have her here on MG Strikes Back talking about her favourite girl warriors in literature.

Girl warriors in literature

I grew up wanting to be a fighter.  I had three older brothers and needed to learn to fight at an early age!  I was brought up pretty much as a boy.  My father had fought in the Second World War in the Royal Dragoons, and despite his upbringing in a very conservative Welsh Pentecostal valley, he was an early feminist, though he would never have used the term. An equalist is maybe a better reflection of who he was.  Anything that my brothers could do, he expected me to do as well, quite rightly.  For my eighth Christmas he bought me and my then 13-year-old brother Kenneth longbows.

In action with my longbow, Huntress

We spent many hours shooting cans off walls and also rather alarmingly, aiming for the high wires on the electricity pylons which fortunately we missed.

I was a tomboy and I loved reading about Warrior Girls. I still do! Here are my favourites.

1) Lyra (Belacqua) Silvertongue in Philip Pulman’s His Dark Materials trilogy

Iorek: ‘You tricked Iofur Raknison?
Lyra: ‘Yes. I made him agree that he'd fight you instead of just killing you straight off like an outcast, and the winner would be king of the bears. I had to do that, because—
Iorek: ‘Belacqua? No. You are Lyra Silvertongue.’  Iorek Byrnison awarding Lyra the surname Silvertongue.

Lyra isn’t a conventional warrior who goes to war but she tears up the rule book as to how girls are meant to act and using her wits and intelligence she fights as part of a cosmic war for her own survival and to save those she loves, the many children kidnapped and taken to the magical, terrifying and mysterious North for use in experiments. Lyra is wonderfully confrontational.  She’s a rebel and a tomboy and an outsider and I identify with all those all those things.   (I love the scenes of her climbing over the roofs of Oxford colleges.  Sadly, when I studied at Oxford, I never got round to that!)

2) Katniss Everdeen of the Hunger Games

Fire is catching and if we burn, you burn with us.’  Katniss showing the rhetorical power that turns her from being just a warrior into a warrior Queen.

I love Katniss, of course, because she wields a bow and arrow with such devastating effect, but as importantly because she has a nobility and moral conscience, not just killing skills.  She doesn’t set out to be a warrior. She first goes to fight to save her younger sister from having to enter the Hunger Games, and is subsequently reluctant to be the figurehead of the resistance. It is only when she is witness to the full extent of the atrocities visited upon her people that her sense of outrage fires up and turns her into a true warrior queen.

3) Hermione Granger.  ‘That's what Hermione does. When in doubt, go to the library.’ Ron Weasley's opinion of Hermione's personality is spot on. She’s a heroine who fights with her brain.  That’s where all the best fighting should start.  My father, in teaching me to fight years ago, always said:  ‘If you have to fight, then fight clever!’  Hermione uses her wand and her knowledge of magic to fight.  Her brain and her courage are her weapons.  Hermione makes swots respectable and admirable!

 I admire Queen Boudicca so much I named my dog after her!

4) Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni.  I know Boudicca is a real historical figure but she was an outstanding warrior queen and was amazingly brave in taking on the Romans at a time when most people quailed in fear (and she has been fictionalized in a series of brilliant of novels for adults by Manda Scott: Dreaming the Eagle, Dreaming the Bull, Dreaming the Hound and Dreaming the Serpent Spear.)

In AD 60 or 61, Boudicca led the Iceni, the Trinovantes and other Britons in a revolt against the ruling Romans. Her armies destroyed Colchester, London and St Albans before the Roman leader, Suetonius, regrouped his forces in the West Midlands and defeated the Boudicca in the Battle of Watling Street.  Queen Boudicca then either killed herself so she would not be captured, or fell ill and died.

Another reason I’m fascinated by Boudicca is that every day I look at the landscapes that Boudicca reigned over in East Anglia. 

This is the East Anglian landscape Queen Boudicca lived and fought in.

5) Susan Pevensey in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

‘To the Radiant Southern Sun, I give you Queen Susan the Gentle.’ Aslan.

Susan is another reluctant warrior.  As the books progress she goes on to become a gifted archer, only partially due to her magic bow. She is hesitant to kill, and rarely goes to war, though her aim is marvellous and she is very fierce in battle and extremely protective of the people she loves. If Cair Paravel were attacked at any point during a war, Queen Susan would defend it vigorously.  As we hope for/expect from our warrior heroines, she is a great athlete and a powerful swimmer – she saved Trumpkin from drowning.

6) George (short for Georgina) in Enid Blyton’s Famous Five Books.  George is another a tomboy.  Is interesting that in these books written more than half a century ago, the only way an action girl could be portrayed was as a tomboy.   Now in contemporary novels, girls can be action heroes and still be seen as girls not imitation boys.  George isn’t a pure warrior heroine, but she is a brave adventurer and that ticks a lot of boxes for me.  I love the sense of freedom in the Famous Five books and the adventure which starts with the titles: Five on a Treasure Island, Five Go to Smuggler's Top, Five go to Demon’s Rocks…

Adults feature very little.  I think as children we all fantasize about how we would cope, find our way, without adult influence.  When I was young I was allowed to roam over the Welsh mountains unsupervised on foot and also on my Welsh Mountain pony Jacintha.  I relished that freedom. I think it's what helped turned me into a writer.  I could explore both geographically and in my head during those long hours alone.
My Welsh Mountain Section B pony Jacintha on the left and my Irish Hunter, Jason, on the right

You can follow Linda on Twitter at @LindaDaviesAuth and tweet about the book using hashtag #LongbowGirl. Longbow Girl is published today, Thursday 3rd September, by Chicken House.

1 comment:

  1. Have to agree with you on all those, Linda! Pity C.S Lewis did what he did to Susan. Imagine how she would have felt left without her siblings - did they ever miss her in their "real Narnia", I wonder?

    I'd like to add Rosemary Sutcliff's Song For A Dark Queen to the list of Boudicca novels. It's very short, but good in Sutcliff's inimitable style.